Pied Flycatchers Have a Bumper Year


This year has seen a welcome increase in the number of Pied Flycatchers using our nest boxes in the Lune Valley. Unfortunately, because of corvid 19 we were not able to survey two woods. However, the 18 woods we did survey held 109 occupied boxes an increase of 21 over 2019.

Every time I visit one of our woods, I reflect on the changes we have recorded. The first survey that the Lancaster and District BWS did was a study of the Redstart population which I organised in 1960. We found it to be well distributed in the Lune valley and many of the woods there were searched, but we had only one record of a Pied Flycatcher, a male on May7th. We could have possibly missed others but they were certainly very rare. To see Pied Flycatchers at this time I had to go to the two nest box schemes near Grasmere and on the edge of Ullswater. I wondered why Pied Flycatchers were so rare in our area for the habitat looked right but I concluded that it must be because of a shortage of natural holes in the Oak trees. This was further highlighted when several of the Redstart nests we found were in holes in stone walls. The lack of natural holes was probably accounted for by the past management of the woods for fuel and charcoal production so most of the trees were relatively young and not at the stage where they produce holes

We decided to try some nest boxes but first had to get permission for each woodland.  So just seven boxes were tried in 1966 and we were thrilled when two were occupied by Pied Flycatchers. Over the next few years, we extended the scheme throughout the upper woods. We now have around 500 nest boxes monitored by members of the  Group. One of the thrills I get each spring is to lift the lid of a nest box and see the lovely blue eggs of a Pied Flycatcher and hear the chorus of singing males.
We  catch the adult birds at the nest box and off course ring the nestlings. Over the period of our study we have ringed 13354 birds. The results of all this effort are interesting. Taking nestlings first, of those that return to breed, 29% return to their natal wood, 57% to other woods in the Lune valley and 14 % elsewhere. Of the later most have moved to the Ribble valley and Cumbria but a few as far as Scotland and South Wales. F431440 though is interesting, on 4/05/91 it was caught in Noord Holland The Netherlands then 33 days later it was caught breeding in Jylland Denmark. The same year F431397 also a male, was caught at a nest box with 4 young on 28thJune in North Germany. We had ringed both these birds as nestlings in 1990

Once they have nested 97% of the males that return, nest again in the same wood. Females are a bit more choosey, with 25 % moving to other woods mainly in the Lune valley but occasionally further afield. On several occasions we have proved that a male has two nesting females with the male feeding the young at both nests.We also get birds coming in to breed in our area from elsewhere mainly Cumbria and Durham and seven from Wales including four this year.

So we have gone from just one male in 1960 to probably around 125 nests this year. A real conservation achievement.
John